Challenging Masculinity: A Rise in Male-on-Male Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Is More about Homophobia Than Sexual Favors

Article excerpt

In a year when one governor described state legislators as "girlie men" and another resigned trader threat of a sexual harassment lawsuit from a former male aide, it may come as no surprise that male-on-male sexual harassment is on the rise in the American workplace. In light of these and other events the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition in September spotlighted an annual report from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission showing that the number of sexual harassment claims filed by men has more than doubled in the past 10 years.

But they're not limited to cases involving supervisors who pressure subordinates to have sex in order to get promotions or keep their jobs, explained Riki Wilchins, executive director of GenderPAC. "It's about the use of homophobic behavior to stigmatize any man who doesn't meet gender stereotypes for masculinity," she said. Illegal conduct--sometimes dismissed as "horseplay" or "locker-room antics"--increasingly includes sexual taunts, simulated sex acts, use of female pronouns, and threats of sexual aggression, she said. Offenders aim to humiliate their targets by challenging their masculinity.

EEOC senior attorney adviser Ernest Haffner recalled one case in which coworkers continually taunted a waiter they considered effeminate. …